In 2005 I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. These are my stories.
An Unlikely Idea
I was going to write a story about a zebra. I still will, just not today. I’ve been trying all day to write this story about the zebra and, so far this is all I’ve got, which is to say that I’ve got nothing. The Dark Continent doesn’t want me to think about it right now, maybe Sunday is it’s day off. There’s nothing I can do about that.
I keep dwelling on a conversation that I got wrapped up in the other night regarding whether or not there is such a thing as a soul and further more, if there is, do animals have them? I’m an optimistic type and like to think that there is and they do, respectively.
This is a modern day dilemma, an acceptable topic for debate, but once upon a time there were people who had not yet begun to speculate what, if anything, happens after death. I was thinking about that and I can’t think of any reason why we should ever have wondered about it in the first place. I mean, it’s kind of an odd notion, that death is illusory. What would give us that idea?
People just take it for granted now, the notion that something happens when you die; the soul goes somewhere, and the disagreements over what happens next cause of a lot of conflict. It’s a concept that’s so ingrained in our collective consciousness that most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to be unaware of such an idea. Your opinion on the subject is not important, at least not to me but, what is important, is that you can’t un-know the debate. The existence of the soul is a viral idea that took off and spread like wildfire; enlightening or polluting the human mind, depending on how you look at it. To be human is to be polarized over the question of life after death.
But there was a time, once, long ago, when no one thought about it. We lived and died, just like everything else and then one day, someone had to go poison the waterhole.
Ancient men sat around the fire, getting drunk and waiting for their wives to cook dinner. They did this for thousands of years until one night in August, a big hairy fellow named Leonard says to his buddy, “Hey Sal, what do you suppose happens to us after we die?”, to which Sal replies, “What the gin fizz are you talking about?!?!”
And our fate was sealed.
In October of 2005, I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. I have elected not to share most of the photographs and names have been changed to protect the guilty. These are my stories.
It seems weird now, nineteen years later, to return to the Dark Continent for these stories. I wish I had never gone there but people wish for a lot of things. The past tense of wish is regret.
I was talking to my former employer the other day and he told me that he quit hunting and sold all his trophies, and by trophies he means heads. He sold them all. It doesn’t seem right to kill something just to put it’s head on your wall but at least you can say, “I did that. I killed that thing and now you see its head there on my wall.”
No one wants to say, “Aren’t all these heads beautiful? I bought them!” But now that I think about it, it really is splitting hairs to differentiate one statement from the other. When a white man goes to Africa to hunt a wild beast, a team of baby sitters take him out, track the animal for him, point his gun in the right direction and tell him when to pull the trigger. After that they wipe his ass and present him with an invoice that ends in six zeros. So I guess it really doesn’t matter how one acquires their African animal heads; one way or another, they were all bought anyway.
The first big score of our safari was the Hippo. They look docile but the 7,000 pound wickedly territorial sea bull is the undisputed king of the water. Even the crocodiles and venomous water serpents leave them alone.
On the first day, we went out to the Hippo pond and waited around, and around, and around.... My employer eventually got off a few shots, injuring his target which, when describing a Hippo hunt, means that he pissed it off and then it disappeared. To get a kill shot you have to shoot them right in the brain and that is difficult because they sit submerged in the water with only their eyes, nostrils and ears exposed. To kill a Hippo, you have to hit a target that is 50 yards away and roughly the same diameter as a beer bottle.
On the second day, a wild gun battle ensued. The injured hippo, having gone mad from it’s wounds, ran from the water and charged the camera crew. A few more rifle rounds to the ole noggin’ put ‘er down but not before it ran back into the pond, dying in the water as a final act of vengeance.
When your Hippo dies in the water, it’s a little bit of a problem. For one thing, it’s Hippo brethren just witnessed the massacre of their patriarch, which they find both frightening and upsetting. They’re not coming out and they stand guard in such a way that suggests you shouldn’t go in.
It was getting late, the sun was going down on the Dark Continent, and the Hippo I was supposed to photograph was at the bottom of the pond. I don’t know who thought retrieving it from the water with a helicopter was a good idea but, sure enough, a helicopter arrived all chop chop chop and gale force winds, to hoist the Hippo onto dry land. A discussion was held with the land owner, the trackers and the pro hunters who were actually in charge of this adventure, and it was decided that Crazy Barefoot Man would climb in his tiny canoe, that he paddled with his hands, and paddle on over to the fallen Hippo. He would then wrap chains around it’s feet and then hand the loose ends up to the helicopter. I never caught Crazy Barefoot Man’s name but he was there with his Crazy Barefoot Kid who probably called him Dad. Both of them were white and ran through the bush in their bare feet, somehow avoiding the giant stickers that carpeted the ground.
The sun was setting on the water and it looked lovely with all the ripples from the helicopter wind and the silhouette of Crazy Barefoot Man hand-paddling his canoe across the surface towards the family of Hippos, one of whom had sank to bottom.
The bulk of a Hippo’s 7000 pound body is not comprised of it’s brain and, because of this, they operate primarily on instinct. What little brain power they have is allocated to their senses, which are very keen.
This whole canoe scheme seemed like a bad idea but no one asked me and off he went. As the little boat approached the middle of the pond, the surviving members of the Hippo family saw, smelled and heard the intruder. They sounded the alarm and silent, angry water tanks mobilized in the direction of the hand paddled boat. I saw then that Crazy Barefoot Man could paddle backwards a hell of a lot faster than he had been paddling forward. He made a hasty retreat and the helicopter was sent home.
On the third day we left the lodge at 5:30am and sat in the back of a pickup for half an hour while we were driven back to the scene of the Hippo. During the night, the smell of death had permeated the water, choking the surviving Hippos until they forgot about being sad and grew more concerned over being grossed out. They were too disgusted to eat breakfast so they left the pond in search of greener pastures.
As the first golden rays of sunlight spilled over the horizon, we arrived at the pond ready to do battle, and by “we”, I mean an army of 15 Africans had been assembled to wade out in the water, tie chains to the now bloated and floating dead Hippo’s feet, and tow it back to the sandy beach where all the Americans and white Afrikaners waited patiently. Crazy Barefoot Man was there too but he didn’t bring his canoe.
Believe it or not, 7000 pounds of floating dead Hippo really doesn’t weigh anything. They towed it along effortlessly until it’s bloated sides started to drag the bottom and then 7000 pounds suddenly weighed a lot. A safari outfitted Toyota Hilux pickup, the same one we had just ridden in, was backed up to the shore and the chains were attached to the come-along winch on the back bumper. Moving dead animals is serious business in this part of the world.
Once freed from it’s watery grave, the carcass of the Hippo ceased to pollute the water and began at once to pollute the air, still seeking revenge for it’s untimely death.
The same team of men who were sent into the pond were now assigned the task of making the Hippo “photo ready”, which meant doing things like cleaning all the blood from it’s orifices, scraping barnacles and other unsightly debris from it’s body, prying it’s jaws open with a hydraulic car jack, thereby releasing a terrific stench into the morning air, and cleaning the swamp out of it’s mouth so that my employer could stick his head in there and tell me to take his picture.
I was supposed to wait until the Hippo was officially released from it’s hair and makeup chair to commence photography but I shot every detail of everything, all the while my employer kept saying “Just wait, you don’t need to shoot that.”
When the Hippo was finally deemed ready for it’s 15 minutes of fame, my employer knelt behind it, Pedorseli 45/70 hoisted over his shoulder. He looked straight into the camera and said “Isn’t it magnificent!”
In 2005 I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. These are are my stories.
South Africa is the queen mother of all brothels.
When you talk to a man with soft hands who claims to have killed an elephant, you have to wonder what reason a man with soft hands has for doing such a thing. Unlike Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes, elephants are not high on the 1st world list of threats to humanity.
My job was to portray the gentlemanly sport of big game hunting as genteel and aristocratic, which is not at all what it really is. What it is, is paying for flattery. I mean how else does a man with soft hands end up with an elephant head on his wall?
My employer wanted me to make him look important and distinguished. He wanted to make sure the world knew of his international exploits, so long as they met the first two criteria. My photographs of him have been published in prestigious hunting magazines that are read by tricks everywhere. I guess that makes me famous.
I did my job perfectly. He knew I would and this is why I got the gig, but I wasn’t happy.
My employer, who usually looked to me for council, had become deaf in both ears and was making an international ass of himself. An adolescent boy with a rifle; spending big money to kill big animals, running his mouth like a fool and fondling his mistress who was a carbon copy of his wife. I would have let all this slide, had he been nice to me, but seeing as how that was evidently not part of the plan I decided to show him what big game hunting looked like to me.
I shot his photos, the ones he wanted, and then I shot my photos, the ones I wanted him to see. For every one magazine ready portrait, I shot hundreds of gruesome images: tongues lolling from bleeding mouths, heads with lifeless eyes hanging from the back of flat bed trailers, pools of blood in the sand, ripped skin.
In October of 2005, I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. These are my stories.
The dark hills of South Africa are filled with baboons. They hide in trees, scanning the landscape with human eyes, barking monkey messages to their monkey brethren and smiling broadly so the sun glints off their razor sharp lion teeth. To hunt a baboon is both murderous and futile. While a human predator camps out in the bush, waiting for an unsuspecting beast to wander in front of his gun, baboons are stripping his truck and using the parts to build a spaceship.
Troops of baboons crowd the shoulders of the highway; waiting for food scraps and making obscene hand gestures at the VW Buses rattling non-stop up and down the wrong side of the road. You never, ever see a dead baboon in the road. They don’t get hit by cars. The same cannot be said of dogs or boa constrictors but baboons understand traffic laws. A baboon always knows who has the right of way.
While it is not uncommon to see unemployable men camped in front of the general store; cooking fowl meat with a butane lighter and pissing in a Coke bottle, this is not a fate that would befall a baboon. They don’t smoke dope, grow delirious from malaria, or live in shanty towns. A baboon does not call plywood and a tarp with a house number a house, nor is it a master of exploitation. A baboon knows it’s place in the scheme of things.
A successful predator in any environment, this intelligent, albeit ugly, lion-monkey is a marvel of nature. If I were you, I wouldn’t antagonize the baboons. They know where you live.
In October of 2005, at the height of his mid-life crisis, I was commissioned by a self absorbed, narcissistic baby-man to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. The actual photographs were truly disgusting and the trip went poorly. I will not post those photos to this blog and, for once, will let my words do the talking. These are my stories.
I was commissioned to photograph an ego maniac’s big game hunt in South Africa. It seemed like a bad idea, but it also seemed like a free trip to Africa.
What kind of idiot fool would say no to a free trip to Africa?!
On the other hand, what kind of idiot fool would say yes?
It took 27 hours to reach our destination on the dark continent and, even though our crew rolled in at 4:00 in the morning, we were greeted at the lodge by a cheerful welcome committee. They presented us with snacks and tall glasses of a fruity potion that tasted like air freshener. I sipped at my Glade Tropical Breeze and thought of motel rooms with pineapple bed spreads and torn curtains.
Other workers gathered our luggage and toted it to our cabins. “Be careful walking on the lighted paths at night”, they warned us, “The light attracts insects and the insects attract frogs and the frogs attract Black Mambas, so watch where you put your feet.”
There were some other things our hosts failed to mention, like what to do about the palm sized spider poised directly over the bed. It was working a crossword puzzle and knitting a sweater while waiting for the perfect moment to repel from the ceiling. Spiders have lots of eyes so they are good at multitasking. Arachnid motives, however, are difficult to discern.
This one wanted to turn my face into a cocoon, or maybe not.
“Cocoon” – a 6 letter word for Smothering Silk.
Too tired to care, I fell asleep and was not bothered by the twinkle of round lemur eyes peering through the window.
I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.